Young children's use of features to reorient is more than just associative: further evidence against a modular view of spatial processing


Nora S. Newcombe, Psychology Department, Temple University, 1701 N. 13th St, Philadelphia, PA 19122, USA; e-mail:


Proponents of a geometric module have argued that instances of young children’s use of features as well as geometry to reorient can be explained by a two-stage process. In this model, only the first stage is a true reorientation, accomplished by using geometric information alone; features are considered in a second stage using association (Lee, Shusterman & Spelke, 2006). This account is contradicted by the data from two experiments. Experiment 1a sets the stage for Experiment 1b by showing that young children use geometric information to reorient in a complex geometric figure without a single principal axis of symmetry (an octagon). In such a figure, there are two sets of geometrically congruent corners, with four corners in each set. The addition of a colored wall leads to the existence of three geometrically congruent but, crucially, all unmarked corners; using the colored wall to distinguish among them could not be done associatively. In Experiment 1b, both 3- and 5-year-old children showed true non-associative reorientation using features by performing at above-chance levels on all-white trials. Experiment 2 used a paradigm without distinctive geometry, modeled on Lee et al. (2006), involving an equilateral triangle of hiding places located within a circular enclosure, but with a large stable feature rather than a small moveable one. Four-year-olds (the age group studied by Lee et al.) used features at above-chance levels. Thus, features can be used to reorient, in a way not dependent on association, in contradiction to the two-stage version of the modular view.